KHARTOUM - Leaders of Sudan's ongoing protest have stepped up pressure on the transitional military council that this month replaced ousted President Omar al-Bashir. The protesters have announced plans to form their own civilian council to persuade Sudan's military to give up power.
As thousands more protesters joined a sit-in Friday outside Sudan's Defense Ministry, the main protest group — the Sudanese Professionals Association — said it would form a civilian council to replace the military one.
The SPA, which began collecting names of suggested council members on Thursday, issued a written statement saying nominees would be announced in coming days.
The statement added that a civilian presidential council would be formed and a transitional legislative council would include 40% women.
As Friday prayers were held at the protest site, an imam called for no foreign interference in Sudan and for the military council to preserve the country's prestige.
Protesters at the sit-in said they were determined to bring about a civilian leadership promptly — not by the military's declared two-year transition.
Protester Ibrahim Nogod said the upcoming announcement could mean a new government, but worries persist. Some fear the chosen government won't be accepted by the military council, Nogod said, or that the government would end up simply a new front for a group of ruling parties.
Protester Mahmoud Assan said the people are waiting for a smooth transfer of power.
"Today we had Friday prayers and all speakers agree that the government must be a qualified government," he said.
South Sudan's offer
Reuters news agency on Wednesday reported that South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, had traveled to Khartoum to meet the new leadership. Kiir's office said he offered to mediate talks between Sudan's military and the protesters.
It was not clear if Sudan's military leaders were prepared to accept the offer from their former adversary. South Sudan split from Sudan after decades of civil war, taking with it almost all of Khartoum's oil wealth.
The U.S. on Thursday backed the protesters' demands, urging Sudan's military to step aside and allow a transition to a civilian-led government.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the will of the Sudanese people is clear, and it is time to move toward a transitional government that is inclusive and respectful of human rights and the rule of law.
A senior State Department official said U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Makila James will visit Khartoum this weekend to meet with Sudanese leaders.
The U.S. labels Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, but a State Department official said none of the members of the military council were under U.S. sanctions.
Sudan's protests began in December because of fuel and food shortages, which led to price hikes and calls for Bashir to step down. A military coup then removed Bashir, who had been in power for three decades.
The protesters have staged a sit-in at army headquarters since April 6, refusing to leave even after the military ousted Bashir.
The International Criminal Court has warrants for Bashir on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan's Darfur region.The former president's family and Sudanese officials say he was moved this week to a federal prison, and two of his brothers were also detained.